Six year olds are not allowed to read this blog.
It’s a true story. Recollected with nostalgia, age and insight. And therefore accurate.
I was six. I sat on Santa’s knee and told him what I wanted for Christmas. ‘What did you ask for?’ my mother asked as we left the large department store. ‘It’s a secret” I replied. It actually was a hammer.
Mum wheedled and cajoled me over the next few days. Looking back it must have been a rough time for her. Her fatherless son being foolishly and stupidly stubborn. Other adults chimed in. Santa knows I kept replying. They had built up the legend so successfully I’d swallowed it hook, line and sinker.
Christmas Eve!. Anticipation! Tomorrow, I would get my hammer. We’d put out the usual glass of sherry for Santa Claus. Mum must have drunk it rather glumly anticipating my disappointment in the morning. I went to sleep with my head full of the things I would make with my hammer. The pillow-cases – we never used socks, always pillow-cases – were empty in front of the sitting-room fireplace chimney.
The great day arrived. I raced through to my pillow-case with glee. Several goodies but no hammer. The hurt still singes in my soul. Especially later in the day when Pop my grandfather asked Mum for a hammer to crack the nuts that Father Christmas had brought him. It was his annual treat. Brazil nuts – the last year we had them for a while, there was a war on. I had proudly imagined using my own hammer to help him.
My adults tried to console me. Santa’s very busy. He’s given my hammer to a poor sick boy who needed it more. Uncle Tom had several. He drove home to pick one up and lend it to me for a year. ‘I’m sure he’ll remember next year. And here’s a little saw to cut the wood for you to use with this temporary hammer.’
Despite all the kindness and concern the seeds of disbelief were sown. A year later I was older, wiser, more cynical and calculating. Probably classmates had dropped hints and clues, though on the whole the community sustained the myth miraculously well.
We went through to Christchurch again. Once more I sat on Santa’s knee. I explained what had happened last year and he assured me it would not happen again. I saw him wink at Mum, who this time hovered in earshot.
A few shops later while Granny took Douglas my younger brother to the toilets I said to Mum ‘which is the real Father Christmas?’ ‘Why’ ‘Each shop has a different one.’ She sighed, ‘I’ll tell you about it when we get home if you promise not to talk to Doug about it now.’
That evening, tired after a day’s pavement-bashing and plethora of goodies we’d seen, she put Doug to bed and allowed me to stay up. She said ‘I’ll tell you a secret but please you’re not to tell Doug or anyone else you know. Promise me that.” I did. So she told me – reindeer, chimney etc, it was all make-believe. The first thing I said was ‘so you drink the sherry and eat the piece of cake we leave out.’ ‘Well, seeing you’re now a young man who knows such things you can help me eat them’. So I had my first alcoholic drink – a sip of sherry – and a crumb of cake.
To my great disappointment she would not let me help pack the pillow-cases. I was put to bed, convinced I wouldn’t sleep. But I did.
Surprise! Christmas day celebrations were no different from other Christmas Days. Roast goose at Pop’s, fresh green peas and spuds from his garden. And a full pillow case – clothes, (Christmas was a time for widowed Mum to stock up for both of us for the next six months), books and a hammer. I hardly used that hammer. It was light and frail, suitable for tacks and small-sized boys, unlike Uncle Tom’s, which was a man-sized hammer. That stayed with us.
I kept my bargain. I never told Doug. I’ve heard people argue it’s cruel to tell kids such untruths. Well, I harbour the heresy that we all have elements of make-believe. Certainly, things have changed since then, now the seasons’s more intensely driven by commercialism. We were poor then in some respects. With a war on there were no oranges or bananas, lead toys were unavailable, there were fewer books. But in the country we were well-off in terms of food.
The shared secret was communal. I felt no anger when I learnt the truth. Indeed, I’ve a hunch my let-down the previous year had nurtured the seeds of doubt in my mind.
It was just after Pearl Harbour. All my adults looked worried. I sensed even at that tender age a feeling of let’s enjoy this Christmas, it might even be our last in this form.
I approach this Christmas – my 76th – with a sense of thankfulness for those far-off childhood family occasions. They had a sense of relaxed celebration. I always enjoy watching children unwrapping presents. Their innocent and eager acceptance of the moment appeals. But there is also disappointment – we do not always get that for which we have asked. It is true of any age.